Ever since I became a pastor (way back in the year 2000) I have felt a connection with people who have been hurt by the church, who were maybe once a part of the church but have rejected it for reasons, and those who just really see no need for the church in their life.
You might say that a part of my calling has been to acknowledge the harm the church has inflicted both by action and inaction, and to present an alternative relationship, another way to think of church. It has been one of my driving motivators to be able to say, “There is another way. The version of the church that you reject, I also reject. And there is another way.”
But I’ll be honest. That’s getting harder and harder to do.
The litany of reasons is far too long to catalog here. Christians behaving in blatantly un-Christlike ways may very well have done irreparable damage to the church. There seems to be no way to “fix” it at this point. All we can do is …
What? What can we do?
Maybe I’m in this mood because I’m so old and cynical. I feel like I used to be so gracious and understanding, saying things like, “Well, that may be the way that you relate to Jesus, but I relate to Jesus differently than that. Everybody’s different! Whoopee!” But now I see people who say they are Christians doing and saying such abhorrent things, and I honestly cannot say that with integrity any more.
I’m getting tired of thinking to myself, “No, that’s not what following Jesus looks like. That is not what church is.” I’m sick of reacting to Christian awfulness.
So let me instead phrase it in the positive. Let me tell you what I want:
+ I want to be a part of a church that struggles together to make sense of things; not one that presents one narrow set of doctrines as the only possible way to look at the world.
+ I want to be a part of a church that makes art and writes songs and dances and sings together; not one that is run like a corporation.
+ I want to be a part of a church in which content is more important than form.
+ I want to be part of a church that blesses human love expressed in sacred covenant; not one obsessed with forbidding gay people from being married.
+ I want to be a part of a church that reflects the racial diversity of the community around it; not one whose worship features “the most segregated hour of the week.”
+ I want to be part of a church that values and cultivates the spiritual gifts of women in the same ways, with the same leadership roles and corresponding salary levels, as men; not one in which sexism clouds every decision.
+ I want to be part of a church that celebrates cultural nuance and embraces the beauty of difference and distinction; not one in which anything out of the “ordinary” is inherently wrong and to be feared.
+ I want to be a part of a church in which scientific discovery is embraced, doubt and skepticism are encouraged, and intellect and reason are seen as complimentary to spiritual growth.
+ I want to be a part of a church that does not campaign for specific candidates, but is passionately engaged in politics for the sake of God’s justice.
+ I want to be a part of a church that, in word and deed and thought and attitude, represents Jesus Christ with love and grace and peace and justice and truth and life and light and wonder and meaning and hope and joy.
That’s all. That's the church I want. Pardon my selfishness, but this is my blog after all.
(And before you say, “That sounds like OUR church!” take a minute to think about the theology behind what you are saying. You are severing your particular congregation from the body as a whole. Your ecclesiology may need a bit of work.)
I want to do something new. I want the church to be something that I am afraid it is not, but certainly can be. Should be. Is supposed to be. MUST be, if we are to be faithful to God’s desires. It's obviously not about the church "I want;" it's about the church God wants.
Can such a church happen within existing structures? Can there be a 21st century reformation of the institutional church? Or are we too far gone, and the only hope is to create something altogether new?
I think the church is in a season of great potential energy. We’re right at the top of the hill, and we’ll either get over the hump and move ahead or be pulled back down the backside. I’d really like to be one of those giving it a nudge forward.